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Vancouver Icons: Marine Building

March 16th, 2011 @ 3:05pm (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

Earlier this week I began a new series called “Vancouver Icons” that will combine information about famous city landmarks with a collection of photos I find on Flickr. When I first started blogging I wanted to showcase the lesser-known aspects of Vancouver life, history, and culture – helping people explore beyond the tourist traps and cliche photo ops. However, there are so many iconic places and things around Vancouver that we pass every day and may not know much about. Today’s Vancouver Icons feature is the Marine Building.

Marine Building
Photo credit: colros on Flickr

Known most recently for its cameos in locally-filmed television shows and movies (eg. as the Daily Planet in Smallville) the Marine Building is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable buildings.


1931 – Looking North from Vancouver. Archives Item# CVA 371-1157. Photographer: Joseph Frederick Spalding

Construction began March 13, 1929 with a ceremony attended by Mayor W.H. Malkin who blew a golden whistle to start the excavators in motion. The building formally opened October 7, 1930 with 21 floors at a height of 321 feet – it defined Vancouver’s skyline.

The Marine Building, Vancouver (1991-03-10b_18)
Photo credit: Vancouver Archives Item# CVA 586-4384, Iam I.A.M. on Flickr

It has ornate ocean-themed features everywhere you look on the inside and out, from carvings to clocks and elevators. A few of the features as described by the late Chuck Davis on his site, Vancouver History:

  • Great Entrance: “Seahorses and pufferfish still swim along outside the building between the second and third floors. Boats and ships move past, biplanes and a Zeppelin fly by. A train chugs past. It’s one of the great entrances in Canada. Seventy-six years ago, when it was new and the colors were brighter, it must have been a dazzler.”
  • Elevators: “The lobby, small as it is, is a masterpiece. There are five elevators, their doors of solid brass intricately and interestingly designed. There was a time when five uniformed young women stood beside them, each carefully chosen for her beauty. The elevators were the fastest in the city at 700 feet a minute, at a time when 150 feet a minute was the norm.”
  • Lobby: “On the east wall of the lobby is a clock with unusually shaped numbers. When the big hand is on the starfish and the little hand is on the crab, it’s six o’clock. The lobby floor has 12 inlaid signs of the zodiac and was once made of a material called Corkoid, imported from Inverness, Scotland. It has now been replaced with look-alike material.”
Marine Building Vancouver

Marine Building, Vancouver

Entrance Elevator Three

Marine Building Vancouver Marine Building Vancouver
Photo credit: colros & PiscesDreamer on Flickr

You can spend an afternoon gazing up at the art deco details on the exterior of the building – many of which you may not notice in passing but will discover upon closer inspection. The Marine Building is located on Burrard between West Hastings and Cordova.

Previous Vancouver Icons posts include: The Crab Sculpture, Girl in Wetsuit, The Sun Tower, The Hotel Vancouver, The Gassy Jack Statue, and The Angel of Victory. Should you have a suggestion for the Vancouver Icons series please feel free to leave a note in the comments. It should be a thing, statue, or place that is very visible to the public every day.

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5 comments

  1. Gillian says:

    The Marine Building is indeed a Vancouver icon. I love how the creamy colour of the decorated portion contrasts with the terra cotta coloured brick; in fact I like it so much that I have recently done a “collage like” painting of the decorative details that I named “Marine Mosaic”. Great story. Thanks.

  2. […] in this post: Vancouver, Marine Building, art deco, Brown Dog Cafe (not really in this post at all, but if you’re in Vancouver, you […]

  3. Mike Priebe says:

    One of my favourite buildings in Vancouver, gorgeous! At the time this 21 story building was built it was the tallest in the British Empire. Architects describe their design as “some great craig rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, and touched with gold.”

  4. REW.ca says:

    Love the early photos showing how dramatic it was when it was the tallest building in the British Empire. Thanks Rebecca.

  5. Terry Dillon says:

    What kind of work is taking place on the Marine Building right now? I see a lot of steel bracing on the south side rear section of the building along Hastings Street.

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